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Title: From Castle Rackrent to Castle Dracular : Anglo-Irish Agrarian Fiction in the Nineteenth Centuary
Author: Davis, Paul E. H.
ISNI:       0000 0001 0797 0868
Awarding Body: The University of Buckingham
Current Institution: University of Buckingham
Date of Award: 2007
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This thesis provides a comprehensive and distinctive analysis of the Anglo-Irish agrarian novel. It argues that these novels constitute a significant sub-genre within Irish Studies - albeit one that has been neglected and perhaps misconstrued. The thesis is divided into three main parts, each reflecting different literary and political approaches to the Irish Land Question. All contribute to an understanding of the opportunities and problems facing authors who together created a tradition covering almost the entire nineteenth century. The thesis seeks to establish a canon consisting of eight agrarian novelists and upwards of sixteen novels. Of necessity, this canon is interrogated primarily in ideological rather than in stylistic terms. The scope is deliberately broad. Instead of focussing on minute deconstruction of the textual dynamics of a single work, the thesis explores the wider connections and complex correspondences among a substantial group of writers. Though flawed, their joint contribution to the debate on the Land Question was significant and provides valuable historical and literary insights. There have been those who minimize its significance but this thesis maintains that the Anglo-Irish agrarian novel is a genuine literary terrain that deserves proper exploration. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to the task of mapping the territory of the agrarian novel and incorporates elements of cultural materialist methodology. This is clearly evidenced in Chapter One - which partly places the sub-genre within the context of other areas in Europe that were contested in terms of land, religion or culture. The first section explores the impact of Maria Edgeworth, the first writer to present the central issues of the Land Question in prose fiction; she was also the first to offer a blueprint for a solution. The thesis seeks to demonstrate that it was Edgeworth's agenda that dominated Anglo-Irish fiction before the Famine and continued to exert a powerful influence during the remainder of the century. Gerald Griffin and the Banim brothers, the first Catholic agrarian novelists, sought to bring new dimensions to Edgeworth's essentially landowner-orientated agenda. Yet their attempts to broaden it and to make it more Irish encountered difficulties. Their desire to radicalize Edgeworth's analysis was frustrated by a loss of faith in the tenantry and arguably by an inability to use the conventional format of the three-volume novel to portray the political realities they perceived. William Carleton was the most successful agrarian novelist after Edgeworth but, despite his more flexible representation of the Land Question - involving what some critics regarded as apostasy - Carleton still remained a prisoner of Edgeworth's agenda. Significantly, all the writers discussed in this section eventually abandoned their attempts to solve the Land Question through the medium of prose fiction and turned to other areas of interest. The second section begins by examining the culturally lean years that followed the Famine. It shows that the political and literary famine was broken first by the emergence of Fenianism and then by its literary portrayal in the works of Charles Kickham and indeed in those of his apparent polar opposite - the honorary Irishman Anthony Trollope. Despite their differences however, neither Kickham nor Trollope believed that the solution to the Land Question could be found within Ireland. Rather, they looked overseas - to America (Kickham) or to England (Trollope). Regardless of their wider horizons and distinctive contributions, the solutions proposed by Kickham and Trollope proved at least as confused and contradictory as those suggested by the authors examined in the first section. The third section focuses on Thomas Moore and Bram Stoker. Earlier identification of the problems encountered by those who sought a solution to the Land Question in the context of realist literary forms raises the possibility of an alternative approach - that of fantasy. This is a common feature of Moore and Stoker's work. While Moore's book predates all the authors apart from Edgeworth, the unique, fantasy quality of his Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824), separates him from the more or less rational worlds of Edgeworth and of those who, like her, at least glimpsed a solution. Thus we must look to Moore to discover the origins of the only other work in the canon that challengeso r even surpassesE dgeworth's preeminence - Stoker's Dracula (1897). Superficially, Stoker merely transplants exploration of the Land Question from Ireland to Transylvania, but the novel also deals with issues ignored by other writers. Dracula not only looks to the past but also to the future and forms a bridge between the conventional agrarian novel and the innovative, urbanized, literary forms later pioneered by lames Joyce. This analysis facilitates a new interpretation of the categorization of the Anglo-Irish agrarian novel. The thesis concludes that earlier attempts at categorization, especially the theories of accents proposed by W. B. Yeats, Daniel Corkery and subsequent commentators (chapters I and 9), fail to understand either the most important similarities or the differences between the agrarian novelists. Instead, it proposes a new schema whose format is suggested in the three parts of the thesis described above: namely that the real divisions are between those who follow the tradition of Edgeworth, those who look to foreign solutions and those who privilege the fantastic or surreal.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available